How “The Hobbit” was Brought to Israeli Readers

Jan. 25 2018

From the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 until 1970, Israel fought a low-intensity conflict, known as the “war of attrition,” with Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO. Ten Israeli air-force pilots were captured in the final year; after four months of solitary confinement, all were thrown into a single cell. Around that time, one of the pilots received a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Chen Malul describes what happened next:

The four pilots in the cell [with a solid grasp of English] decided to translate The Hobbit for those who would find it hard to understand. The pilots initially translated specific words and expressions. It did not take them long to discover that the work distracted them from their life in captivity, and soon they found themselves working day after day, for many long hours, on translating the entire book.

The work was done in pairs—one reading the text in English and translating it to Hebrew on the spot. The second’s job was to be an editor: to improve the Hebrew translation and adjust it to the high level of Tolkien’s original work. The many poems in the book presented a complex challenge, and the four turned to their cellmates for help. They later related that “we failed slightly with the poems in the book.” Under the circumstances in which the unprofessional translators found themselves, a labor of love would suffice. The entire project took four months, and it’s unlikely they thought the translation they worked so hard on while in captivity would ever be read outside the walls of their cramped cell.

The prisoners, who were released from captivity only after the Yom Kippur War, [returned to Israel] bearing a well-used copy of The Hobbit, along with seven full notebooks. In 1977, the Hebrew translation done by the pilots and their cellmates was published with financial support from the air force.

There are currently three published Hebrew translations of The Hobbit. . . . The one by the pilots and their comrades is considered the lowest-quality translation of the three, but it’s the translation I grew up on.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew, Israeli history, J. R. R. Tolkien, Translation, War of Attrition

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy